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Scarecrow on Seattle: THE PARALLAX VIEW

For the past few years, Scarecrow Video has been contributing reviews of movies made in the Pacific Northwest to the Seattle Office of Film + Music's e-newsletter. We're now proud to be able to share these reviews on our site as well.






The Parallax View (1974)

The opening shot of Alan J. Pakula's thriller is a ground-level view looking up a totem pole. On the pole, a myriad of faces and eyes stare down at us, watching, observing. It's immediately unsettling, and becomes disorienting once the camera swings left to reveal another large structure that was previously hiding behind the pole: the Space Needle. The camera stops, taking in both structures, and for a moment the totem's eyes are no longer staring at us. Instead, they're looking over at the Space Needle, cueing us that we should be much more interested in what's going down at that weird, artificial, inversely shaped structure in the sky. At the same time, we hear the tom-tom of drums, ominous perhaps, until we hear cheering as well. This is part of the brilliance of The Parallax View, one of a handful of major Hollywood films that people can immediately identify as filmed in Seattle, in large part due to the bravura opening sequence. Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis constantly juxtapose images in the frame to disorient viewers, causing us to question what we are seeing and wonder what we should be seeing. The filmmakers do this not only with images, but also with characters, sounds, music, you name it. As soon as we see the totem and the Space Needle, there is a cut, and we're now at the base of the Needle, watching a news report on a Fourth of July parade (the one we heard a second ago) marching through the Seattle Center. But, again, the parade cuts our line of vision to the reporter, and we are left with a jumble of images and sounds. One of these brief images introduces Warren Beatty, a huge star at the time but here a nominal spot in the background. This pattern continues until we're finally atop the Needle, where the film's definitive act-a breathtaking assassination attempt and its aftermath-occurs. Other examples of this disorientation and undercutting happen at the Woodland Park Zoo*, where two large men (Beatty and Kenneth Mars) discuss matters of life and death while riding a train six sizes too small for them; on a visit to Lake Chelan where Beatty encounters a friendly sheriff who may not be so friendly; and at the Gorge Dam, where an idyllic scene by the Skagit River turns into a furious nightmare once the floodgates open. Pakula, Beatty, and company must really have enjoyed their time in Washington using the lovely locales and landmarks, because once the movie shifts south to L.A., about thirty minutes in, we could be anywhere. Or, anywhere in 1974 America, where distrust in our leadership and conspiracy theories regarding assassinations and power struggles were part of the daily discourse. That Pakula could take that weltanschauung and turn it into one of the most suspenseful, taut, nearly ascetic thrillers of its time is a testament to his greatness; a greatness he would take to another Washington two years later to confront a very real conspiracy in All The President's Men.

-Mark Steiner

*Despite being listed on the city's official film location brochure and other publications, local film historians are still divided on whether this scene was actually filmed at the zoo. If you can help verify this location, please contact us at Scarecrow.

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